Hosting for friends and family with food allergies – Preparing the food

Salad Raspberry

Are you hosting a holiday party and know that you will have guests with food allergies and/or sensitivities like gluten? Do you have food allergies and/or sensitivities? If you don’t, you may be nervous about preparing the food safely.

Once you have done the meal planning and grocery shopping and are ready to start prepping and making the food you make sure you pay careful attention to ingredient labels and avoid cross-contamination.

  1. Re-read ingredient labels Even if you have already read the ingredient list on items when you were in the grocery store, re-read them at least two more times before using the product. Be very very meticulous when reading over ingredients. You will want to look on each side of the package to make sure they have not listed a “may contain” label somewhere else on the package. Unfortunately, some manufacturers do not write may contain labels near the actual ingredient list. Know the ingredients. There is no “overly cautious” here. It’s important to be 100% certain that the items you use are safe for guests with food allergies. I’d recommend you keep the wrapper or box or cut out the ingredients so your guest can re-read the ingredients too. I trust friends and family to prepare food for me, however I always  re-read ingredient labels even if you are told it is safe.
  2. Be extremely cautious of cross-contamination   If you will be preparing some food which your guest is allergic or sensitive to make a plan before you start cooking of which utensils you will use for which foods. In making a plan before you start preparing and cooking, it will help you be more aware and reduce the risk that you end up using utensils that you prepared unsafe food with to prepare the allergy safe food. Make sure the cutting board is clean and the surface you plan to work on as well. I often recommend preparing the food for the guest with food allergies on plates as that surface is definitely safer than a cutting board which, especially if plastic may have residues from previous unsafe ingredients. Use your best judgement and if you are ever unsure, pick up the phone and call the guest or parent of the guest.  Communication is always key!

Wish there were more Christmas parties to go to!

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As I mentioned on Friday, we had a busy weekend ahead with two Christmas parties. They were both great fun! For the first, I was very relieved that we had eaten at home before going. It was definitely less awkward/uncomfortable for me as we had both eaten before the party. I am extremely fortunate to have a partner who will skip the meal too, so I don’t feel left out. We headed to the first party on a full stomach which is something I need to do more often so I don’t feel like I am missing out. I was so content with our delicious curried chicken dinner that I didn’t even feel like I was missing out on the wonderful desserts they had. I was glad I hadn’t tried to eat there as it ended up being a Chinese dinner, so I was very happy avoiding the food altogether.

After dinner Santa Claus showed up and each child got a gift! It was a great family oriented party and I made sure to wash my hands after shaking other people’s hands to be sure I wouldn’t have any allergens on my hands. I didn’t touch my face either, or brush hair away, to be sure I didn’t react from a previous handshake or from touching something. For me, it is important that I be cautious, and try to avoid being paranoid, so I take steps to prevent a reaction. We came home safe and sound!

After a good night’s sleep we were headed to the second party which was being held at the University of Victoria, here in Victoria, British Columbia. It was a beautiful location and we were lucky as it wasn’t raining too much. The second party, a Christmas lunch was much smaller than the Friday night one which was nice as I had been able to speak with the kitchen staff prior to the lunch. Once we arrived, we went to the kitchen staff and I introduced myself. They said that they had plates prepared for me and would bring them out the moment everyone else started getting their food from the buffet. They brought me a nice large salad with kale vinegar and oil, as I had asked for to be safe, and a second plate, the entrée, with turkey, steamed potatoes and vegetables. I was relieved when they brought out the 2 plates, as there was no dressing for me to worry about and no sauce on the turkey for me to be concerned about. When I am dining out, I much prefer plain veggies and meat as it’s one less thing I need to worry about. The food was delicious and by the end of it I was stuffed! However the fruit platter they had made me was irresistible, so I ate that too! I had a wonderful time, had no stress and spent a nice afternoon with colleagues.

All and all, a wonderful weekend. I just wish there were more! Unfortunately the other one we had planned to attend was on Friday night, so we couldn’t attend both. Next year, we are keeping our fingers crossed we will be able to attend all of them!

Have you had any Christmas parties yet? If so, how were they? If you haven’t had them yet, what are you doing to prepare for your Christmas party?

 

Christmas Parties and Food Allergies

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December 1st has arrived and I keep asking myself where the time has gone. This year has flown by! In any case, December is a fun month filled with Christmas parties, friends, family and lots of joy and laughter. Have you been invited to any Christmas parties this year, or perhaps in the New Year? Are they organized by your work or your partners work? Are they hosted by friends? These are all questions that will often distinguish the approach you take before hand to ensure you can have an enjoyable time without worrying about having an allergic reaction.

Are they organized by your work or your partners work?

Communicating with the person organizing the Christmas party might be very different for each scenario. If your company is hosting, you may be able to speak to the catering staff because the company you work for will want to ensure you are able to eat and have a good time. If the Christmas party is organized by your partners work, you may have to jump through a few more hoops to try and speak to the caterer. I always say that if you don’t get all the answers you need and speak to the people you want to speak to, like catering staff etc. it is much better to simply eat before you go. That is my plan this year.

Are they hosted by friends?

If your friends are hosting a party, you might feel much more comfortable discussing your allergies with them and they may already have your list. You might even be able to help in the food planning as well as in the kitchen. I know for me, if a friend is organizing a party with food, I always see if I can help with the cooking and prep  that way I can ensure I will be able to eat safely. If for some reason you are unable to help with the prep, make sure you feel very safe before you eat anything. If someone else has brought the food and you aren’t certain it is safe, do NOT eat it. Be safe. Do not take chances with life-threatening allergies.

Please tell someone if you feel sick after eating something. Even if you are not sure it is an allergic reaction. It is important that others around you know what is going on especially if you were to react. Safety first.

Best,

Erika

Food Allergies and Anaphylaxis- No Joke

Many of you know that Severe food allergies and Anaphylaxis are no joke. There are still many people out there that do not realize how serious and life-threatening a food that may seem so innocent, like a peanut can be. We need to raise awareness.

Below is yet another sad story of what happens when us severely allergic people ingest these foods and a reminder of how important it is to take every possible precaution possible. When your life is on the line. Be as safe as you can be.

Amy’s nut allergy devastates family and friends

These stories need to be shared. We need to raise awareness that food allergies are no joke.

 

A whirlwind of a week – cross-contamination and a severe allergic reaction

In the last 6 days I have had one insanely close call with cross-contamination at a restaurant and a severe allergic reaction yesterday afternoon. It’s been quite a week. And my trust in labels and restaurants has dropped drastically.

I am so fortunate to have family and friends who have helped me through both of these incidents. The first incident occurred last Friday, at a family-friendly restaurant here in Victoria when I almost ate a chickpea that was in my Greek salad. I had taken as many precautions as I possibly could have, and the kitchen messed up. Here are the precautions I took:

1) Called the restaurant ahead of time to discuss my severe food allergies – They assured me it should be just fine, we have people in with allergies quite often and accommodate, and that all I would need to do was talk to my waiter. After that response I felt comfortable eating there.

2) Told the waiter the minute he came for our drink order - I told the waiter immediately when he came to the table for our drink order that I had life threatening food allergies and his response was, “ok, I’ll get that later when you order your food”. Not too reassuring, however when he took our food order he did go back to the kitchen with my list and reassured me everything in the Mediterranean salad – with no feta or bread would be ok.

3) Wrote a list of all my food allergies and gave it to the waiter -  I always give a list to my waiter with all my food allergies. I wrote “deadly” next to the 4 things (peanuts, tree nuts, soy, legumes – peas, beans) that could send me to the hospital. And wrote “sensitive to: dairy and gluten” so as not to confuse them.

Now, everyone’s meals arrive together and another waiter or staff (not our waiter) places a salad in front of me with feta cheese on it. I call our waiter back immediately and say “I told you I cannot have feta”. He says “yes, I am sorry the kitchen made a mistake I will get you a new one right away”. I feel comfortable enough that the next time everything will be safe. Well… The next salad came and everything looked ok. No feta on this one. I tested the salad dressing to make sure I didn’t react to it (as soy is often found in dressings) and it was fine. So I started eating. The salad was good and we were having great conversation, when all of a sudden, I realized there was a chickpea in my salad. I was terrified! They called the waiter back immediately and we told him about the chickpea and I told him that I had specifically warned him about my life-threatening allergies and that this chickpea would have sent me to the hospital. The manager spoke to the kitchen staff and sorted it out. They made a brand new salad from scratch and made a new chicken breast for me and didn’t charge us for the meal. The whole car ride home, I worried about a delayed reaction from the fact the chickpea had been in with the salad that I had eaten. I took antihistamines and stayed up for a few hours with my boyfriend in case I would have had a delayed reaction. I didn’t.

I am now scared to trust restaurants with my food. It has traumatized me. How could such a thing happen when you take so many precautions? I don’t plan on eating out for a while.

Have you had any close calls?

 

 

Conferences, events, and hotel food

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If you are living with life threatening food allergies, you have likely attended a conference or other catered event. Whether the event was a wedding, a holiday party or perhaps a conference, having a safe meal, or multiple safe meals can be challenging. Have you had an exceptional and memorable experience with hotel staff, or catering staff? Have you ever had an experience that may have resulted in a reaction?

I have attended numerous conferences and catered events, for all different occasions and each one has taught me a new tip and raised my awareness a notch.  A few action items I HIGHLY recommend are:

1. Provide a list of ALL your allergies prior to the event (either to event staff, or hotel management)

2. Before the first meal, ask to speak to the “Maitre D” or Kitchen Manager/Head Chef

3. If you genuinely don’t feel comfortable eating from the buffet, then do NOT hesitate to tell them. Tell them you would feel much safer having a separate plate for each meal. They should understand that.

Just because you have food allergies or food sensitivities, like I do, to gluten or dairy, it doesn’t mean you need to miss out on good food and dining! Live the conference, wedding or other event to the fullest while enjoying tasty food just like your friends or colleagues! Speak up! :)

I used to keep quiet and not eat very well. Now, I often eat better than others at the conferences. Some managers have even brought me meals personally! AND placed the napkin on my lap and pushed my chair in! While others were getting their own food from the buffet! Don’t get down because you have food allergies. Don’t let having food allergies be “unfair” they don’t have to be! Trust me on this one!

 

A weekend of safe meals away from home!

Salad Raspberry

This past weekend, I felt extremely safe with all my meals, even though I was far from home! The conference I attended was held at Kingbridge Conference Centre & Institute. The kitchen staff had been provided a list of all my allergies by the conference organizers prior to the conference. Meals were buffet style for starters and breakfasts, and plated for the main meals. At breakfast, lunch and dinner, I would mention to a waitress that I was the one with multiple food allergies. They would nod, tell me to have a seat and shortly after, one of the kitchen managers would bring my plate out to me. The food was great and the staffs attention to my allergies and full understanding and appreciation of the severity of them was one of a kind.

Steak Dinner

Each meal, I felt included. My meals were almost identical to everyone else’s plates! They did a wonderful job at every meal. They even had a sorbet for me and a nice strawberry and mint fruit cup.

I had dessert with every dinner! A real treat :)

DessertSorbet

Thank you Kingbridge Conference Centre & Institute for such wonderful service. The staff were friendly and always smiling! Good safe food, attentive staff, a beautiful venue with squash, tennis and basketball courts, indoor and outdoor pool, an indoor running track and walking trails makes this Centre the perfect getaway!!!

If you are looking for a place to stay somewhere near Toronto I HIGHLY recommend a visit! The staff will take great care of you.

For food allergy and environmental allergy accommodations, I rate them as a 10/10.